Scottish college students are getting an insight into the work of the emergency services through a scheme that involves them posing as casualties in a major simulated crisis.
Later this month, 12 healthcare students from Glasgow Clyde College will put their acting skills to the test in the first ever national training exercise for the emergency services at the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s Uaill Training Centre in Cambuslang.
Getting real people to act as casualties provides fire services and medical staff with a more lifelike experience than using plastic dummies, while the students will gain understanding of how the different professions work together in an emergency as well as how their future patients might feel.
Glasgow Clyde students have already taken part in two training exercises since the college began supporting the emergency services earlier this year, but the upcoming session on 26 October will be the first to involve emergency services personnel from across Scotland.
The Cambuslang national training centre is viewed as one of the best in the world, offering a realistic environment where emergency services staff can practice. The facility has a mock town, where firefighters, paramedics and doctors are confronted with scenarios such as burning buildings, road accidents and train derailments.
Role-playing students are briefed on their injuries, including any behaviours they should display. Beauty students from West College Scotland then use make-up to give them fake wounds, bruises and grazes.
Pat Gourlay, a senior lecturer in health and life science at Glasgow Clyde College, told TESS that students with an interest in adult nursing, paramedic work or accident and emergency care were chosen to take part in the exercises.
“Some students will have to stay in their position for a couple of hours before they get found. They are told to be unconscious – or to be hysterical, pretend that they cannot feel their legs –and the emergency services then have to assess them. Some are stretchered from a height. Others have to hide on a train until they are found,” she said.
“The students learn so much,” Ms Gourlay added. “They get to see a multi-disciplinary team in action. Students come away thinking ‘This is the career for me’, or decide they want to go in another direction. They also learn great empathy. Although it isn’t real, they must sense the terror that real casualties feel. When they get into nursing that will help them.”
Stephen Nesbit, head of road traffic collision delivery and development at the training centre, said the partnership with the college offered healthcare students the opportunity to work alongside the fire and rescue and ambulance services. “These training events provide students with a better understanding of the effects of operational incidents and the requirements of pre-hospital care, while also bringing significant benefits for the frontline emergency crews,” he added. “The inclusion of live casualties ensures that all involved are immersed in believable simulations that test their communication, trauma care and rescue skills.”
‘I screamed for help’
Donnalee Taylor, a 26-year-old HNC student in care and administrative practice, has played a casualty in both of the previous training events Glasgow Clyde has been involved in. During a simulated train derailment, she pretended to be trapped on the train with spinal injuries.
“I had to scream for help and they came to rescue me. It was a fantastic experience. I want to go into nursing, and this really confirms that that is the right thing. I got a really good idea of what it must feel like to be in that situation. It was quite scary, even though you know they will get you out.”
Karen McIlvenna, head of hairdressing, beauty and make-up artistry at West College Scotland, whose students will be responsible for creating the casualties’ fake injuries, told TESS that there was a high level of interest around the event. “The number volunteering far exceeds the number of places we can offer – so we might have a few disappointed students on our hands.”
She added that the participants could look forward to “a fantastic day with the emergency services, which will stretch their creativity and give them real-life work experience”.
“This is something we always encourage. In particular, it will be really helpful for students looking for a career in special effects artistry in TV and film,” she said. “And, given the date, the experience might also be helpful in the run-up to Halloween.”